Buildings are in many respects like cars; they’re a synthesis of a number of mechanical systems with lots of moving parts. To keep a car running at peak performance, it requires regular maintenance: oil changes, engine tune-ups, regular emissions inspections. Buildings are the same. If a boiler is not properly maintained, its efficiency drops, and heating costs increase. If roofs or facades aren’t inspected and kept up, they can leak, causing water damage to interior walls, wiring, and ceilings. The key to avoiding these problems is staying on top of them with regular inspections and upkeep. To that end, scheduling is everything when it comes to maintaining optimal performance.
Why Inspect, and When?
“Preventive maintenance helps extend the useful life of a building’s infrastructure and makes sure all systems operate effectively and efficiently,” says Dan Wollman, CEO of Gumley Haft, a management firm based in Manhattan. “It also allows us to evaluate where cost savings may be found, as well as forecasting major repairs which become necessary as buildings age. Inspections, servicing major building equipment systems, and assessing what needs to be repaired or replaced, all fall under year-round schedules of preventive maintenance. At Gumley Haft, we set up preventive maintenance programs in all our buildings to oversee different building systems at different times of year. Programs like these are very important to how a building operates optimally.”
Scott Wolf, managing partner at BRIGS Property Management located in Boston, Massachusetts, adds, “Regular maintenance of building components extends the life and allows for fewer unanticipated shutdowns due to failure of the equipment. The cost of maintenance is worth the long-term gains.” Keeping systems in top shape is the key to keeping both operating and capital costs under control. Regularly scheduled inspection and maintenance are the keys to that control.
Inspections are done primarily by management and staff, and by vendors providing maintenance contracts to condominium associations and co-op corporations. Few inspections are done by state or municipal authorities (the exception being elevators). While vendors’ contractual obligations usually include monthly inspections, state inspectors in most states (including New York and Massachusetts) visit annually to make sure elevators are in top shape as required by state regulations.
Both Wollman and Wolf explain that most systems such as boilers, HVAC machinery, roofs, facades, and other major building components are subject to what might be called a two-tier inspection system. In practical terms, building staff —managers or on-site employees, such as supers or custodians—do a cursory inspection on an almost daily basis. Is the system working? Are there leaks? Is there obvious damage from some kind of malfunction? If spotted, these situations are reported to the management coordinator, and then to the vendor in charge. On a more structured basis, vendors—including elevator companies—inspect systems on a pretty consistent monthly basis. If any emergency repairs need to be made, they are completed immediately. More generalized maintenance is done on a schedule that’s more convenient and in line with other seasonal work.